Doctoral Dissertations

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Duquesne University


English Department

Graduation Date


First Advisor

Anne Brannen, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Jay Keenan, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

David Klausner, Ph.D.


Direct Address, Audience Address, Interaction with Crowd, Audience-actor relationship, English Literature, Medieval English Literature, Early Modern English Literature, Sixteenth-century English Literature, Medieval English Theater, Medieval English Drama, Sixteenth-century English Drama, Early Modern English Drama

Subject Categories

Literature in English, British Isles


"Now will I praise those godly men,

our ancestors, each in his own time...

All these were glorious in their time,

each illustrious in his day.

Some of them have left behind a name

and men recount their praiseworthy deeds " (Sirach 44: I. 7-8)

Direct address is widely acknowledged as a fundamental technique in early English, particularly medieval, drama. The observation that early English drama does not have the convention of the ‘fourth wall,’ and frequently speaks directly to and interacts with the audience would not be news to scholars o f this drama; many have mentioned it. A.R. Braunmuller, for instance, in 1990, says that “[s]uch later-Tudor Vices as Ambidexter (Cambises) or Revenge (Horestes) continue the medieval drama’s easy familiarity with the audience. Directly addressing the spectators or commenting ‘aside’ to them, these characters elide or obscure the differences between play and spectator” (83). Meg Twycross, in 1994, notes the preponderance of direct address in medieval plays, saying, “The true amount of direct address in these plays becomes apparent only when they are performed” (55). Suzanne Westfall, in 1997, comments that “early modem theater is full of what modem readers would consider breaches of fourth wall in the form of prologues and epilogues, verse designed to contact the audience directly with recommendation for their behavior, pleas for applause and reward, and straightforward flattery” (53). The sources in which these comments appear — The Cambridge Companion to Medieval English Theatre, A New History of Earlv English Drama, and The Cambridge Companion to English Renaissance Drama — demonstrate how accepted these ideas are among scholars of early English drama; edgy or highly controversial suggestions, areas of intense scholarly debate, do not tend to make it into the introductory guidebooks that we construct for our fields. The position of direct address as a foundational, widely used technique in early English drama is solid, perhaps as firmly in place as an assumption of our scholarship as it was in the dramaturgy in which it figures so prominently.

Since the understanding that direct address is a fundamental technique in early English dramaturgy is widely held, it is therefore surprising that almost no scholarship exists that focuses upon direct address. Doris Fenton’s 1930 study, The Extra-Dramatic Moment in Elizabethan Plavs Before 1616, is the sole full-length consideration of this issue. Even if this study were thoroughly brilliant and pretematurally insightful about the uses of direct address, given how much we have learned about early drama since its publication, the time would assuredly be ripe for a reconsideration of its conclusions. As it is. Fenton's consideration of direct address is disappointing in several ways. It focuses largely upon Elizabethan plays, providing only a cursory examination of medieval and Tudor plays, while nearly all contemporary scholars would agree that direct address is far more common in the earlier drama. In addition, Fenton’s analysis is solely formalistic. She describes and categorizes the purposes for which direct address can be used, but provides no further analysis. Moreover, the conceptual understanding o f direct address underlying her study — that direct address is by definition ‘extra-dramatic’ — is problematic; as we now know, there is no reason to assume that early English drama conceived of direct address as something that occurs ‘outside’ the normal drama. As David Klausner has noted, “This [characterization of direct address as extra-dramatic] can now be seen as a gross oversimplification of a device which both implies and provokes a considerable range of relationships between actor and audience” (2). Demonstrably problematic in concept, and analytically challenged in scope, Fenton’s study nonetheless has remained the last word on direct address for over seventy years.

While Fenton’s is the only study that focuses upon direct address, other scholars consider direct address in some detail as a secondary focus, because their central topic of study is closely related to direct address; discussions of soliloquy, interaction with the audience, and improvisation all tend to contain some contemplation of direct address. Thus Neil Carson in “The Elizabethan Soliloquy — Direct Address or Monologue,” from 1976, focuses upon soliloquy, as one would expect, but considers as well the related issue of direct address. In her 1978 dissertation, “Soliloquies, Asides, and Audience in English Renaissance Drama,” Margaret Coleman Gingrich similarly focuses upon techniques related to direct address and considers direct address as it intersects with those issues, as does Lloyd A. Skiffington in his The History of the English Soliloquy from 1985. Likewise, in Themes and Conventions of Elizabethan Tragedy, from 1935, M.C. Bradbrook considers speech conventions, including soliloquies and asides, and, relatedly, direct address; since she considers soliloquies and asides as direct address, the connection here is quite close. In his 1966 dissertation, “The Comic Turn in English Drama, 1470-1616,” J.A.B Somerset includes a chapter on direct address. In his recent (2003) article “The Improvising Vice in Renaissance England,” David Kiausner touches upon direct address for its connection to improvisation. Other studies of Elizabethan soliloquies and asides, such as that found in Bernard Beckerman’s Shakespeare at the Globe (1962), tend to mention direct address largely to downplay the possibility that many soliloquies and asides could have been directed to the audience. However, even when we include the material in which direct address is considered as a secondary focus, the scholarship on this subject remains painfully thin.



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